Dance

Dialogue through dance

Dancer, teacher, and choreographer Siri Rama with Ben Huynh, artistic director of National Taiwan University of Physical Education and Sport (NTUPES) Photo: S. Gopakumar

Dancer, teacher, and choreographer Siri Rama with Ben Huynh, artistic director of National Taiwan University of Physical Education and Sport (NTUPES) Photo: S. Gopakumar   | Photo Credit: S. Gopakumar

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Experimentation never ceases at the hands of danseuse and choreographer Siri Rama who is on her first trip to Kerala

Dance has been a way of life for Siri Rama. This Indian dancer, teacher and choreographer, now based in Singapore, has been constantly working towards expanding the repertoire of Indian classical dance by incorporating contemporary themes, stories and thoughts and taking it to audiences across the world. Founder-director of Mumbai-based Kanaka Sabha Performing Arts Centre, Siri Rama and her students are in the city as part of a dance festival organised by Samudra Arts International. On Thursday, she performed with five of her students and also a piece with members of National Taiwan University of Physical Education and Sport (NTUPES).

Having taken to dance as a young girl, Siri has never restricted herself to presenting traditional pieces of Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi. In fact, she takes pride in the fact that choreography has been one of her greatest strengths. “We came up with a production based on Tulsidas’ ‘Ramayana’, which has covered over 100 stages. Then there has been three major productions on Buddha,” she says. Among the major productions are ‘Kamba Ramayanam’ (in Tamil), ‘Parvati Kalyanam’ (in Telugu), ‘Narayaneeyam’ (in Sanskrit), ‘Jaya Jaya Ganesha’ (in Marathi), ‘Hayavadhana’ (in Hindi) and ‘Buddha Charita’, ‘Buddhavatara’ and ‘Maya Dhwani’ (all in Sanskrit).

The versatile dancer enjoys collaborating with musicians and dancers from other genres and countries. For example, in ‘Ramayana’, she worked with Chinese and Malay dancers. Her collaboration with Taiwanese artistes was more of an interpretative ballet that blended the classic steps of Bharatanatyam with ballet. “It was my first project with them. It was more about how the choreographer, Ben Huynh, interpreted the composition. The piece was based on a fusion composition in Raga Malhar and its variations, in tune with the rhythmic sounds of the monsoon,” says Siri.

She believes that it is the “Asianess” in all of us that helps us connect with artistes, especially from Asian countries. “We all have a long tradition of art and dance. Also, when I collaborate with them I ensure that none of the dance forms loses its essence,” says Siri.

Siri, who has her roots in Karnataka, has been trained in classical dances from childhood. Her career took a turn when she got an opportunity to teach Bharatanatyam at Hariprasad Chaurasia’s Vrindavan Academy in Hong Kong. For this post graduate in physics and electronics, the journey meant exploring dance. She went on to do her doctorate in fine arts (on dance sculptures) from the University of Hong Kong. She lived in the United States of America for a couple of years but moved to Singapore “when I found that I am more comfortable in Asia.” She comes down to Mumbai often to manage affairs of her school, Kanaka Sabha, which was formed in 1980.

Silk trail

Up next is a project on silk. Silk? “Yes…,” she says with a laugh. “I travel through the weaving and textile tradition of different parts of the country, blending other facets. One of them is based on what Akka Mahadevi, a Shaivite saint, wrote about the silk worm; that is how it weaves its house and die amidst the threads wound tight. There is a piece on Benares and the Benares silk. While the city is the abode of Lord Visweswara (Shiva), the weaving community predominantly has Muslims, who apparently make silk paintings for the Buddhist monasteries in Ladakh. We explore that journey of silk. Then we talk about Maharashtra Paithani silk, Kancheevaram, weaves from Andhra Pradesh…” The project, “inspired by the silk route from China”, is done in collaboration with Malayali Odissi dancer Jyoti Unni who is settled in Singapore.

Innovative moves

It is an experience in itself watching Madhuri Dixit’s poetic moves in the mujra ‘Kahe ched mohe’, from the movie Devdas. But few could imagine the same number, choreographed by veteran Birju Maharaj, in a classical ballet format. Well, it was one of the presentations by NTUPES, titled ‘Fascinating’, at the event. “I can’t explain how much I love Indian rhythms, the chollus, the beats… India is like a dream for me. As for this particular song, I just loved the rhythm. I don’t understand the lyrics. I go by the music,” says Ben Huynh, artistic director of NTUPES.

The troupe that performed in the city had six dancers, of which two are teachers.

“The Department of Dance and Graduate School of Dance at NTUPES has academic and professional courses. They study history of Chinese dance, modern dance forms, choreography and many other aspects,” says Szu-Ching Chang, an assistant professor in dance at NTUPES, who is accompanying the dancers.

The group performed Pangu dance (dance on tray and drum), and the piece ‘Forbidden Love’.

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Printable version | Nov 14, 2018 3:24:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/dance/dialogue-through-dance/article6267954.ece

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